Iraq Legal Education Initiative

Launched in 2012, the Iraq Legal Education Initiative (ILEI) is a partnership between Stanford Law School and the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). The project presentes a unique opportunity to build a center of excellence for legal education in Kurdish Iraq.

Shaped by decades of dictatorship, war, isolation, and political change, the legal systems of Iraq and its Kurdistan Region have developed into a complex hybrid of local, regional and federal laws as well as practices rooted in custom or religion. As a result, law school curriculum tends to be outdated and impractical. Many textbooks date back to Baghdad in the 1970s and do not cover key recent developments in Iraqi and Kurdish law, such as the new Constitution of 2005.

ILEI was created in response to demand from legal scholars and practitioners in Kurdistan, who recognize that quality legal education is a key step to developing a stronger legal system and rule of law. Using textbooks and curriculum developed by SLS students in collaboration with Iraqi experts, AUIS professors will begin teaching AUIS’s first law courses in the spring of 2014. After the completion of the pilot phase in 2014, SLS students will continue to produce original legal education materials intended for use at AUIS and beyond. As with all of the Rule of Law Program’s Projects, ILEI works collaboratively with a range of local actors, sharing feedback, ideas, and new developments in Iraqi and Kurdish law.

All publications are available free of charge below.

see all ILEI publications

Support Education, Not Just Drones: The Power of Legal Education in Kurdistan

In June, NYT columnist Tom Friedman gave the commencement address at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani (AUIS) and wrote about it in a column titled “Iraq’s Best Hope” (NYT, June 3, 2014). Mr. Friedman concluded his column with the following observation about AUIS: “Yes, this is an elite school, and Kurdistan is an island of decency in a still-roiling sea. But the power of example is a funny thing. You never know how it can spread. More American universities, please—not just drones.”

Three years ago in Erbil, I was sitting in the kitchen of Dr. Barham Salih, the former Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the founder of American University of Iraq in Sulaimani (AUIS). Together with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Eli Sugarman (SLS JD ’09), Dr. Salih and I toasted a partnership between Stanford Law School (SLS) and the American University of Iraq in Sulimaniya to develop a law program at AUIS, known as the Iraq Legal Education Initiative (ILEI). My students, our fellow Megan Karsh (SLS JD ’09), and I have worked intensely with faculty and staff at AUIS over the past several years to shape a curriculum relevant in Kurdish Iraq and to write textbooks that support the law classes. Last spring, the first law course at AUIS was finally offered. AUIS students filled the course (and a waitlist) and enthusiastically participated in it.

In some respects it might be surprising to know that Iraq had a better-developed legal system than many other developing countries. Still, mainstream legal education in Iraq fits a pattern that we see across developing countries. Stiff lectures, rote memorization, and woefully outdated textbooks are the hallmarks of that pattern. Many of the standard legal texts in Iraq, for example, were published in the 1970s. We cannot engineer the future of Iraq; that is obvious. But we can help to educate a cadre of future leaders to think critically about the legal and policy choices that Kurdish Iraq makes. And we can infuse its political and legal institutions with capable actors. My students are writing superb textbooks for AUIS, AUIS is fielding capable teachers, and students at both AUIS and SLS are voting with their feet and demonstrating their commitment to the building out of a legal education program at AUIS. Through the Iraq Legal Education Initiative partnership with Stanford Law School, AUIS is filling an urgent need for now and the future. This effort must continue and grow.

The partnership is strong, and includes the unwavering support of Dawn Dekle, President of AUIS and SLS JD ’99. AUIS has provided substantial counterpart contributions to realize our shared dream. We have two additional courses that will be rolled out this coming academic year —but funding is now in question.

President Dawn Dekle emailed me over the weekend with an update on the current state of affairs in Kurdistan generally and at AUIS specifically. The situation in Kurdistan is improving with US air support. However, because the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has had to direct all of its liquid funds to the Pashmerga to fight the Islamic State (IS) invasion and to the escalating refugee crisis, the KRG cannot make its annual contribution to AUIS. AUIS depends upon the KRG contribution to operate. AUIS has to dramatically slash its budget. The first step is to cut courses not absolutely required for students to graduate. The two ILEI classes AUIS and we have worked so hard to create for the coming year are on the chopping block unless we are able to raise $10,000 ($5,000 per class). That sum is the minimum required to cover the professors’ salaries and to print the textbooks.

I am hopeful that we will find funding to continue to build out a law curriculum at AUIS. We have launched several other successful legal education programs throughout the world, including in Afghanistan where a partnership with American University in Afghanistan and Stanford Law School has been growing and flourishing for years. We now have a full law degree granting program and a 132-credit curriculum at AUAF and my students have authored seven textbooks (and counting) that are or will be translated into Dari and Pashto. We must do the same in Iraq. We are betting on the quality of the future of this fledgling democracy.

Erik Jensen is a Professor of the Practice of Law at Stanford Law School and the Director of its Rule of Law Program, which has launched legal education programs in AfghanistanIraqTimor-LesteRwanda, and Bhutan. He is also an Affiliated Faculty Member at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University (FSI).

If you wish to support the legal education program in Iraq, payment can be made by check or money wire. Unfortunately, the AUIS Foundation is not equipped to process credit card or debit card transactions yet. Checks can be made out to “The American University of Iraq Foundation” —a 501(c)(3)—with “for ILEI courses” in the memo line and sent to:

The American University of Iraq Foundation
c/o JP Schnapper-Casteras (SLS ’09)
1117 10th Street NW, W7
Washington, DC 20001

Postnote from Erik: I’m writing a check and I hope that you will, too.

Professor Erik Jensen Professor of the Practice of Law and Director of Rule of Law Program, Stanford Law School


American University of Iraq (AUIS)


Paul JPEGMr. Paul Craft, Co-Founder of ILEI

Iraq Legal Education Initiative 3

Paul Craft conceived of the AUIS and Stanford Law School partnership in 2010, formally connected AUIS and Stanford Law School in 2011, and has been active with ILEI since.

From 2010 to 2015, Paul served as Director of Enrollment at AUIS, leading student recruitment, admissions, registration and testing for the university. During his tenure, AUIS tripled enrollment and modernized its information management systems. Paul is a graduate of Stanford University with a BA in History and served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Stanford Journal of International Relations.

Mr. Asos Askari, Co-Founder of ILEI

Iraq Legal Education Initiative 4

Asos Askari helped found the AUIS-SLS partnership in 2011 and taught the first ILEI course at AUIS in spring 2014. He currently serves as non-resident co-Director of ILEI while he pursues an M.Phil at the University of Birmingham in international politics and law. Askari joined the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani in January 2011. He qualified as a Solicitor of England and Wales in 2010 after completing his Training Contract in England. Prior to being admitted to the Roll of Solicitors, Asos graduated with a BA (Hons) Degree in Law with Politics in 2005 before completing his postgraduate MA study in International Relations in 2006, both at the University of Manchester. He takes great interest in political, economic and educational developments in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.

Mr. John-Paul (JP) Schnapper-Casteras, Trustee of AUIS

Iraq Legal Education Initiative 5

JPSC HeadshotJP Schnapper-Casteras founded the first student exchange program between Stanford University and postwar Iraq in 2004 and now serves as a Trustee of The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. His commentary on Iraq and other policy issues has been published in the Washington Post, Politico, and other outlets. Previously, JP served as a law clerk to the Honorable Roger L. Gregory of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and to the Honorable Scott W. Stucky of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. He received his J.D. with Pro Bono Distinction from Stanford Law School, an M.P.P. from the Harvard Kennedy School, and an M.A. in Sociology and B.A. with honors in Political Science from Stanford University.


For a sense of how engaged, bright, and diverse the AUIS student body is, please see AUIS’s Facebook page

Stanford Law School Faculty

Erik Jensen

Erik G. Jensen

ErikErik G. Jensen is a professor of the practice of law at Stanford Law School, Faculty Director of the Rule of Law Program, and an affiliated faculty member at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). A lawyer trained in Britain and the United States, he has taught, practiced and written about the field of law and development in 30 countries. He has been a Fulbright scholar, a consultant to the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the African Development Bank, and a representative of The Asia Foundation, where he currently serves as a senior advisor for governance and law. His teaching and research activities explore various dimensions of reform aimed at strengthening the rule of law, including the political economy of reform; the connections between legal systems and the economies, polities and societies in which they are situated; and the relationship of Islam to the rule of law.

Among other publications, Jensen has authored “Confronting Misconceptions and Acknowledging Imperfections: A Response To Khaled Abou El Fadl’s ‘Islam And Democracy’” published in the Fordham International Law Journal, and Beyond Common Knowledge: Empirical Approaches to the Rule of Law (Stanford University Press, 2003), which he edited with Thomas C. Heller. Jensen holds a JD degree from the William Mitchell College of Law and an LLM degree from the London School of Economics.

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Mehdi Hakimi

Mehdi-Jalalddin Hakimi

Mehdi Hakimi is the Executive Director of the Rule of Law Program at Stanford Law School. He develops and implements projects in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cambodia, and Rwanda. Mehdi manages a $7.2-million grant from the U.S. Department of State. As Lecturer in Law at Stanford, he also teaches seminars on legal education in developing countries.

Prior to joining Stanford Law School, Mehdi was the Chair of the Law Department at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). In addition to teaching various courses, Mehdi founded and directed AUAF’s Business Law Clinic Program providing pro bono lmehdi-photoegal services and trainings to organizations in Kabul. He also established AUAF’s Moot Court Competition Program guiding AUAF to the semi-finals of the Pan-Asian Division in the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot in 2016.

Mehdi has worked with various organizations on rule of law and development issues. In collaboration with Stanford Law School and The Asia Foundation, he has designed and directed legal and educational programs in developing countries.

A native of Afghanistan, Mehdi completed his post-secondary studies in Canada earning his J.D. and M.B.A. from the University of Ottawa and his B.A. from Carleton University. A licensed attorney in Canada, Mehdi practiced litigation, international trade and business law at a major Canadian law firm.

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Stanford Law School – Students

“During my first year in ILEI, I researched and wrote a textbook chapter on International Criminal Law from the Iraqi perspective. Now as we prepare to launch a new International Law course at AUIS, I cannot wait to see how the students engage with the material. 

As residents in the one of the fast-growing regions in the world, I have little doubt that AUIS students will soon serve as leaders in Iraq and play a critical role in shaping the region. My hope is that the course will not only give them knowledge of international laws and norms, but also give them the legal and critical thinking skills they need to face the unique challenges they are sure to confront.” – Neel Lalchandani, ‘15


Brendan Ballou (’16) graduated from Columbia University in 2009, majoring in Philosophy. Prior to coming to law school, he spent three years at Google Ideas, the think tank of Google Inc. There he led a project to digitize the world’s constitutions, helped organize the first national public opinion poll in Somalia’s constitutional process, and helped build a social network for former violent extremists.

Jen Binger (’16) graduated from UC Davis in 2010, where she majored in International Relations and History, and studied abroad in Cusco, Peru. Jen has worked as a Sexual Assault Response Team Advocate and a Bilingual Case Manager for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. She is Co-President of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and is involved in a number of other organizations on campus. She speaks Spanish.

Charles Buker (’16) graduated from Dartmouth College in 2011 with a major in Government and a concentration in International Relations. Afterwards, he worked for two years as a Legal Analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York City. At Stanford Charles works for the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and will serve as the IRAP Policy Director for 2014-15.

Elizabeth Miller (’16) graduated from Williams College in 2010 with a double major in Political Economy and Art History. She then moved to Cape Town, South Africa where she worked as a Research Fellow at the Economic Policy Research Institute (EPRI) and as a Project Manager for UNICEF, primarily studying the economic impact of direct cash transfers in lower- and middle-income countries. At Stanford Elizabeth co-leads the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and travelled to Jordan in March 2014 to meet with IRAP’s local partners and interview refugees.

Enrique Molina (’16) originally from Puebla, Mexico, Enrique graduated from Indiana University in 2012 with a double major in Economics and Near Eastern Languages & Cultures, the latter with a concentration in Arabic language. Enrique spent his last academic semester living in Rabat, Morocco, where he served as the Public Affairs Intern for the United States Embassy. Upon graduating from Indiana University, he worked as a Training Assistant in the Stability Operations Division of the Foreign Service Institute—the training branch of the U.S. Department of State. At Stanford, Enrique is Publishing and Business Development Chair of the Stanford Journal of International Law and an active member in the school’s Immigration Pro Bono Project.

(from left to right) Emily Zhang, Jessica Dragonetti, Kara McBride, Cary McClelland, Neel Lalchandani

“Meeting the AUIS students who are using our textbooks was the pinnacle of the program. The students were so smart and engaged and so committed to the future of their country. Though many of the AUIS students were younger than us, and they had just begun their formal study of the law, we felt like we were among peers.” – Jessica Dragonetti, ‘15


Jessica Dragonetti (’15) graduated from the University of Chicago in 2009 with a B.A. in Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations. She is a Board Member of the Stanford Association for Law in the Middle East and a member of the Iraqi Legal Assistance Project. Prior to Stanford, Jessica taught for two years at Turkey’s newly founded Amasya University through the Fulbright Program. Jessica is conversant in Turkish.

Neel Lalchandani (’15) is originally from Oakland, CA and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010 with a degree in Political Science. After college, he studied human rights in Lyon, France as a Humanity in Action fellow and served as a teacher at an all-boys, public high school in Chicago. He brings this interest in rights and education to the ILEI team and is excited for the launch of ILEI’s international law course.

Kara McBride (’15) is originally from Seattle, Washington, and graduated with a degree in Political Science from Boston College in 2011. While at Boston College, Kara participated in a study abroad program in Kuwait City, and wrote an Honors Thesis on women’s political rights in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Kara is also a member of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at Stanford, the former Policy Director of IRAP, and brings an interest in international and human rights law to the project.

Cary McClelland (’15) has a BA in Screenwriting from Harvard University, a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University, and dedicates his current studies to alternative dispute resolution and international law. Cary recently worked with WITNESS and Google to launch YouTube’s Human Rights Channel, dedicated to giving voice to citizen journalists around the world. Before that, his work spanned Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia. He has trained former child soldiers to be television journalists in the Eastern Congo, directed conflict transformation programs in liberated East Timor, worked alongside opposition activists in Zimbabwe, and worked on advocacy programs in Egypt, Syria, and Burma. His latest film, Without Shepherds, documents six groundbreaking Pakistanis fighting against extremism. The film was released in the summer of 2014 in theaters and online.

Emily Zhang (’15) is simultaneously pursuing a PhD in Political Science and her JD. Emily graduated from Cornell University in 2011, where she majored in Government, Economics, and French and studied basic Arabic. She also traveled with the Cornell Forensics Team to Qatar in 2010 to help the Weill Cornell Medical College set up and develop their new debate team.

(from left to right) Mark Feldman, David Lazarus, Neil Sawhney, John Butler, Ryan Harper


John Butler (’14) was a Mellon Mays Fellow at Brown University and graduated with Honors in 2007. John also has an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics in Comparative Politics, where he focused on conflict studies and political violence. He has spent time working in organizational development for Big Brothers Big Sisters in Newark, NJ and also doing development work in Kenya and Tanzania and disaster relief work in Haiti. At Stanford John was the Notes Editor for the Stanford Journal of International Law. John has interned at the Public International Law & Policy Group in Washington, D.C. and was a Summer Associate at Cadwalader, Wickersham, & Taft in Washington, D.C. He clerked for the Honorable Katharine Hayden on the District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Mark Feldman (’14) graduated with Highest Honors from the University of Michigan in 2007 with a B.A. in Comparative Literature and a Minor in Economics. At Stanford Mark was Co-President of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and Managing Editor of the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties. While at Stanford Mark spent his summers at the Center on Wrongful Convictions and Center for International Human Rights at the Bluhm Legal Clinic in Chicago, IL, and at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, AL. Prior to Stanford, Mark served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco and an AmeriCorps VISTA at ACCION International, a microfinance institution based in Boston.

Ryan Harper (’14) is a JD-MBA student at Stanford University. Ryan received a B.A. in Political Science with Honors from the College of the Holy Cross. He is the former Co-President of the Stanford International Law Society and an Articles Editor of the Stanford Law Review. Ryan was a Summer Associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in New York, NY and at the Department of Defense in the General Counsel’s Office in Washington, DC. Ryan was also a Summer Associate at WilmerHale in Los Angeles, CA. Prior to Stanford, he was Special Assistant to the Deputy Administrator at USAID from 2010-2011 and the White House Domestic Director for Presidential Personnel from 2009-2010.

David Lazarus (’14) received a B.A. in History and Political Sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. David is a Senior Editor of the Stanford Law and Policy Review and research fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and Center for Food Security and the Environment. David has interned at the United States Mission to the U.N in Geneva, Switzerland, where he worked on international human rights issues, and was a Summer Associate at Hogan Lovells LLP in Washington, DC., as well as at the State Department Office of the Legal Advisor. Prior to law school, David served as Senior Adviser to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and as Legislative Assistant to Senator Richard Durbin.

Neil Sawhney (’14) is the Membership Chair of the Stanford American Constitution Society and a Member Editor of the Stanford Law Review. Last summer, Neil interned at the Office of the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, Netherlands. Prior to Stanford, Neil served as a legal assistant at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, and at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. Neil graduated with honors from Harvard University in 2008 with an A.B. in Social Studies and Near Eastern Civilizations & Languages. In 2007, Neil spent a summer in Egypt, where he studied Arabic at the American University of Cairo and conducted research for his senior thesis on the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in Egyptian politics. Neil will be working this summer at Arnold & Porter LLP in Washington, DC.

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For more information, email Mehdi Hakimi at or write to us at:

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